Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Not quite married

Even though Jenny and I have been married for 15 years, we don't think of ourselves as married. We're still much more comfortable with the idea that we're cohabitees.

To me at any rate, the term marriage still implies all sorts of ugly expectations about roles and behaviour and duties which I don't go along with. The husband as breadwinner, the wife as housekeeper, obedience, submission, sex with the lights off, suburban sterility, you name it.

I know very well that all those stereotypes are out-of-date, and in theory marriages can be whatever you want them to be, but nevertheless just the thought of marriage gets all those preconceptions bubbling up and makes me feel instantly limited and put-upon.

Cohabitee on the other hand means nothing at all except living together. It doesn't imply anything about how you should behave, your lifestyle, the sort of home you live in, your domestic status. All it means is that you've chosen to live together, for whatever reason, because it's convenient or appealing.

It's entirely up to you how you live together. You're free to negotiate every little detail, from housework to sex, from organising to communicating, without any prior assumptions about what's traditional or appropriate. You can do whatever feels right for you, whatever comes naturally.

So whenever either of us accidentally mentions being married, or being a husband or wife, the other shudders and screeches and generally has conniptions. It's in bad taste, it's like farting at a dinner party or swearing in front of the vicar. It poisons the happy home.

The bit of paper's useful of course, financially and legally. But all the cultural baggage that goes with it - thanks but no thanks.

32 comments:

Baino said...

Ah I think we live in different times now Nick. I have one who can't wait to get married (my son oddly), right into all that commitment and playing house business and my daughter? Not an inkling. Totally unimportant to her, especially in these days of defacto law where frankly it doesn't matter a jot whether you're married or living together. It'll be interesting to see how they pan out but I think thankfully, for many of us, the old stereotypes are no longer valid. I still retain my married name even though I've been a widow for 21 years. Not so much because I like it but because I worked very hard to get it hahaha! (Oh and the inconvenience of changing all my paperwork, credit cards, license etc.)

Joanna Cake said...

I love this! What a great concept :)

And I understand where Baino is coming from. Being in the process of divorcing myself from the real owner of the name I have worked under for the last two decades, it's hard to know whether to go through all that hassle to change it... and what to?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Well, Happy Cohabitation, whenever that date is! I never wanted to be married although I always knew I wanted children, and ended up married three times. Would I ever do it again, though? Never!

It sounds as if you and Jenny have found love and happiness together, no matter what it's called, and that is all that matters. The piece of paper, as you say, is mere convenience.

Leah said...

I know what you mean, Nick--but somehow you make "suburban sterility" sound so sexy!

; )

Nick said...

Baino - I think there can be just as much commitment with cohabitation, even without the paperwork. And of course many marriages end in divorce despite the promised commitment. But cohabitation leaves all the stultifying marital stereotypes behind.

Joanna - Hi, I've lurked at your blog lots of times! Jenny never took my name so all that name-changing hassle didn't arise. Though people still insist on calling her Mrs ------! You could always call yourself Cake - or is that your real name?

Nick said...

Heart - I don't know when Happy Cohabitation Day is, I can't recall the date we moved in together! If anything happened to Jenny, I think I would want another partner, I don't like being on my own too much.

Leah - Suburban sterility is sexy?? Have you ever lived in the suburbs? Mind you, they say many suburbs are positively heaving with wife-swapping, orgies and fetishistic get-togethers....

Rummuser said...

Conniptions! I haven't heard that word in ages. My late wife and I were married for forty years and before that knew each other for eight years. I suppose that cultural differences makes a difference in that, here it is important to be and be known as husband and wife. We never of course used the word between us, but were comfortable being married to each other and being known as such.

Nick said...

Ramana - It's still the conventional thing here to prefer being known as married. Cohabiting and marriage are seen as opposing states, even though the only real difference is legal - and I suppose religious if you're that way inclined.

Megan said...

California is a community property state, so the piece of paper definitely means something here!

Nick said...

Megan - Just looked that up. So community property means assumption of joint ownership by the couple. I think there's a similar assumption in the UK except that when you're buying a house or flat you have to specify joint ownership or not (whether married or cohabiting).

kylie said...

i remember hqving a home ecs teacher who cohabited for many years and then when she wasin her forties she married her man because she got sick of introducing him as her partner

Nick said...

Kylie - I suspect what she got sick of wasn't calling him partner but other people's tedious reactions. Does that mean you're cohabiting? Are you in fact married? Is that a business partner? etc etc

kylie said...

i would think you're right about that, i was going to say something along those lines but got distracted, theres a lot going on here, mice, cupcakes, washing......

Nick said...

Kylie - Mice? Eeeek! As long as they don't find the cupcakes....

Are they cohabiting mice or are they married?

kylie said...

actually, just one mouse. there were two and they couldnt get along so they had a house each. george, the mouse, got out today and had a whole lot of fun in a whole box of food

i'm not sure why i'm telling you all that, prolly cos i dont want to get dinner....

Nick said...

Kylie - They couldn't get along, huh? The usual quarrels over cheese quality, I suppose? These mice are so fussy nowadays.

Eryl Shields said...

What a lovely couple you are, and so agile. Nevertheless, there will come a time when you will be glad of the off switches (so I'm told).

Nick said...

Eryl - Well, thank you! I don't need any off switches just yet, I'm pretty fit, though some off switches seem to be half-off already. Like my memory and my sense of smell.

Wisewebwoman said...

I so agree Nick, marriage seems to put a damper on things for a lot of people, one couple I know lived together for 15 years and then married and divorced after 9 mos. Hated the symbolic leg chains.
As for me, I retain my birth name would never give it up as it is so unusual and well, ME.
I think it a wonderful compliment to Jenny that if anything happened you would co-habit again.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - I know, I've heard of a few rapid divorces as well. Indeed, Jenny and I must be doing something right if I'm not inclined to say "Live with another woman? You must be joking."

Kate said...

My kids have grown up in a 'broken' home and it is nice that my son wanted the big wedding with all the trimmings - it is also nice that my girl is quite happy living with her childhood sweetheart.

And me - after the divorce I knew I wouldn't marry again but had the most amazing relationship for 16 years where my partner lived 4 miles away and we were together 3 or 4 times a week.

Sadly this ended last year but it was a lovely time and at least the end wasn't messy as we didn't live together.

Nick said...

Kate - That's wonderful that the relationship lasted for 16 years. And it's interesting that your son and daughter have such different views on marriage. I guess I'd expect the woman to want the elaborate wedding, not the man.

secret agent woman said...

I changed my name when I divorced (but took the opportunity to divest myself of a middle name), and would not change it again if I remarried.

But what's wrong with expectations? I don't feel compelled to ever marry again, but it would not be because of some linguistic quibbling.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Oh, I see it as a bit more than linguistic quibbling. To me there's a lot of difference between the formality of marriage and all the stereotypes that go with it, and the much more open-ended concept of cohabiting. But maybe I just think too much!

Liz said...

How strange, nick, when you're married to still feel like that.

Nick said...

Liz - Do you think so? To us, the important thing is that we love each other and we're committed to each other. The marriage certificate is no more than the legal recognition of our relationship. That's how we see it anyway.

Liz said...

You say 'marriage still implies all sorts of ugly expectations' yet you're living proof that it doesn't have to mean that is what I think I meant.
Marriage itself and the certificate are meaningless if you don't love each other and aren't committed.

Nick said...

Liz - Well, that's because we never think about marriage, we only think about our relationship! Indeed, being married is meaningless if the couple no longer love each other.

Rose said...

I find your opinion on marriage amusing. I have been married 21 years and I'm anything, but a Stepford Wife.

Nick said...

Rose - I'm glad you're totally unaware of any negative stereotypes and just happily enjoy your marriage!

Val said...

I used to think I'd never marry having been set a not entirely good example of it by my parents, but I've now been married for 13 years and both of us are very happy. That said, neither of are have a conventional marriage. We both take turns to cook and if one is ill the other takes over. He does all the supermarket shopping which I detest. We spend a lot of time by ourselves (ie, me by myself, him by himself) by choice as, at base, we are both loners and have continued to me. It's possible to be married and still be individuals. But you have to choose what's best for you - and you and your partner have done that.
:)

Nick said...

Val - That sounds very similar to our own relationship. Like you, sometimes we keep to ourselves and at other times we keep each other company. I do most of the domestic chores (including looking after the cars and garden) as I'm currently jobless but Jenny has a very demanding job.